Jeb Swipes at Rubio in Campaign Announcement

Source: ALEXIS LEVINSON, CNN June 15, 2015

Miami — Former Florida governor Jeb Bush became the eleventh Republican to announce his candidacy for president today, offering a thinly veiled challenge to every other Republican contender, but especially to his fellow Floridian and former pupil, Senator Marco Rubio.

Though likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton was the only other candidate mentioned by name in Bush's speech, much of the event seemed implicitly targeted at Rubio, who, rather than being eclipsed by the more experienced Bush, has emerged as a top-tier contender alongside him — both in the estimations of GOP insiders and in the polls. The two share a fundraising base in Florida, making Rubio a serious rival for donors and supporters in the crucial primary state and across the country.

The Bush campaign made clear Monday that it is aware of the threat posed by the younger Florida politician. An hour before Bush took the stage, a surrogate told the audience that she wanted to introduce "a couple of people" who support him. She then read off a laundry list of former and current officeholders and party operatives: former Senator Mel Martinez, former Representative Lincoln Diaz-Balart, former Puerto Rico governor Luis Fortuño, former state Attorney General Bill McCollum, current state Attorney General Pam Bondi, state Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, the state's Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, and former Florida GOP chairman Al Cardenas, among others.

The list seemed designed as a show of strength in the Sunshine State, where Bush and Rubio will most directly face off.

"Jeb Bush is the Florida Republican who can win," said former state Senate president Don Gaetz before Bush took the stage, in a direct dig at the other Florida Republican in the race.

A diverse crowd of about 3,000 people packed the gym at the Kendall campus of Miami Dade College to see Bush speak. Young and old, men in suits and ties, women in towering heels, college students in shorts and T-shirts were all in attendance. Some sat in folding chairs on the gym floor, while others crowded into the risers on the sides. Audience members slipped between English and Spanish in chatter before the event, and there was a noticeable contingent of "Asian Americans for Jeb" on the risers behind the candidate.

Standing on a square platform set in the middle of the gym floor, Bush spoke extensively of his record as Florida's governor, offering it as a blueprint for a successful presidency. Behind him, about 150 people sat on risers under four American flags of different sizes, flanked by two large Jeb! 2016 banners. Red and blue lights twinkled overhead.

Bush's speech made several jabs at his Republican opponents, but most specifically targeted the senators in the race.

"There is no passing off responsibility when you're a governor, no blending into the legislative crowd or filing an amendment and calling that success," Bush said. "As our whole nation has learned since 2008, executive experience is another term for preparation, and there is no substitute for that. We are not going to clean up the mess in Washington by electing the people who either helped create it or have proven incapable of fixing it." Gaetz, who was the most aggressive attack dog for Bush during the event, was even more blunt. "The presidency of the United States does not come with training wheels," he said.

Some in the audience had similar thoughts. Felipe Fernandez, who came to the US from Cuba in 1961, spoke as effusively of Jeb as of Rubio. But, he said, it was not Rubio's time.

"Tremendous leadership. Tremendous future. Note that I say future. He's too young for the job. He is very bright, but he needs more time," Fernandez said as he left the event.

For his part, Rubio welcomed Bush into the race in a statement on Monday morning:

In politics, people throw around the word "friend" so much it often has little real meaning. This is not one of those times. When I call Jeb Bush my friend, I mean he is someone I like, care for and respect. He and I have worked closely together for many years, on issues big and small. He is a passionate advocate for what he believes, and I welcome him to the race.

It remains to be seen how long the kind words will last.